Life is full of demands, hustles, deadlines and other frustrations such as job loss, divorce, and loss of a loved one among several occurrences. For some people, stress has become a commonplace and as a way of life. Stress may not necessarily be bad, small instances of stress are necessary in motivating a person to work under stress to beat deadlines or do the best they can in their activities. However, if stress is persistent, it may be dangerous to health as it leads to depression. Stress can be understood as a normal physical response to incidents that make a person feel threatened or destabilises one’s balance. In this article we will focus on the chronic stress rather than the helpful stress that we experience in our routine activities.
Causes of Stress
The situations that bring about stress are known as stressors. Most often, we tend to think that stressors are negative such as a stressful relationship. However, stressors can be anything that places high demands on someone or requires you to adjust, causing stress. Factors that cause stress vary from individual to individual, although some are universal.
Stress can result from various factors. These factors are can be classified into two categories; internal and external stress causing factors.
- The most common internal stress causing factors include inability to accept uncertainty, negative self-talk, pessimism, perfectionism, lack of assertiveness and unrealistic expectations.
- The most common external stress causing factors entail major changes, relationship difficulties, children and family, work, being too busy and financial problems.
Long term exposure to stress can cause serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly all the systems in the body. It can result to increased blood pressure, increase the risk of stroke and heart attack, supress the immune system, contribute to infertility, and increase the aging process. In the end, long term stress leads to depression and anxiety.
The Stress-Depression Relation
Stress whether chronic like the loss of a loved one or acute like loss of a job or a divorce can result to major depression in vulnerable persons. Both forms of stress can cause overactivity of the stress response mechanism of the body. Sustained or chronic stress particularly causes elevation of hormones like the cortisol (the stressor hormone) and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine, which is associated with depression. When these chemical mechanisms are working in a normal way, they regulate biological processes such as appetite, energy; sleep and sex drive and allow expression of normal moods and emotions.
When the stress response fails to close down and restart after a stressful situation is over, it can result to depression in susceptible people. It is difficult for a person to be stress free in a real life situation. Loss of any type is particularly a major risk factor for depression. Grieving is considered a normal and a healthy response towards a loss. However, if grieving becomes persistent or goes on for a long time, it can trigger a depression. A chronic illness including depression itself is regarded a chronic stressor.
Stress and Depression: Lifestyle Factors
The association between stress and depression is a complex one. People undergoing stress usually abandon healthy lifestyles and engage in unhealthy ways. These people may get into smoking, excessive or irresponsible drinking, gambling, casual sex, drug abuse and neglect exercising among other unhealthy behaviour. These behaviours in turn lead to chronic stress and increase the risk of major depression. These behaviours can leave a person in a vicious cycle and they may not recover easily. Stress is linked to all the six major causes of death in the world including heart disease, accidents, cancer, suicide, lung ailments, and also cirrhosis of the liver.
How to Reduce Stress
The following lifestyle changes can be useful in reducing stress levels and enhance resilience, hence reducing the risk of depression. They include;
- Exercise: Experts propose moderate exercises of about half an hour a day for about five days each week. Exercise produces chemicals in the body that enhance ones mood and stimulate hormones and neurotransmitters including endorphins that can help alleviate stress.
- Strong supportive relationships: Isolation is a high risk factor for depression while community buffers individuals from the effects of risk. Negative relationships are also dangerous.
- Sleep: getting enough sleep is important in preventing stress as people juggle between work and family.
- Eating well and drinking alcohol in moderation: people feeling stress may engage in heavy drinking as alcohol is a known mood suppressor. This may result to serious effects. As such, a person should ensure that they eat well and take alcohol in moderation.
- Yoga, meditation, psychotherapy, prayer: according to studies, these practices can help in retraining brain circuits. They have a positive influence on the emotional brain circuits.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy: therapy of this nature helps people in reframing events in a more positive way. Negative attitudes and the tendency to worry can heighten the effects of stress.
Ultimately, stress is part of human life and cannot be avoided entirely. The most important thing is to manage these stresses and prevent the occurrence of depression. Professional help can be sought in situation of depression to avoid risk.